EU sets out Indo-Pacific plan, says it’s not ‘anti-China’
The European Union resolved in April 2021 to step up its influence in the Indo-Pacific region, using areas from security to health to protect its interests and counter the People Republic of China’s (PRC’s) power.
Led by France, Germany and the Netherlands, which first set out ways to deepen ties with countries such as Australia, India and Japan, the 27-member bloc wants to use the nascent plan to show the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) that it is against the spread of authoritarianism.
The bloc “considers that the EU should reinforce its strategic focus, presence and actions in the Indo-Pacific … based on the promotion of democracy, rule of law, human rights and international law,” EU foreign ministers said in a statement. Diplomats said the plan was not “anti-China.”
The 10-page document will be followed by a more detailed strategy in September 2021, foreign ministers agreed at a video conference, saying they would seek to work with “like-minded partners” to uphold basic rights in the Indo-Pacific region.
The plan could mean a higher EU diplomatic profile on Indo-Pacific issues, more EU personnel and investment in the region and a greater security presence, such as dispatching ships through the South China Sea or putting Europeans on Australian patrols, though details have yet to be agreed. (Pictured: French Navy ship FS Surcouf conducts formation maneuvers during La Perouse 2021 in the Indian Ocean. The annual exercise in April 2021 also featured vessels from the Indian Navy, Japan Maritime Self-Defense Force, Royal Australian Navy and U.S. Navy.)
While not mentioning the PRC in detail, the language in the EU statement is code for support of the United States under President Joe Biden in his approach to China, amid concern that the CCP is pursuing technological and military modernization that threatens the West and its trading partners in the Indo-Pacific.
European diplomats say Indo-Pacific nations want the EU to be active in the region to keep trade open, among other reasons.
The EU statement, which follows similar plans by former-EU member Britain, comes as European attitudes harden against the CCP over its security crackdown in Hong Kong, its treatment of Uyghur Muslims in the Xinjiang region and its handling of the COVID-19 pandemic, first identified in China.
“The EU will further develop partnerships and strengthen synergies with likeminded partners and relevant organizations in security and defense,” the EU statement said. “This will include responding to challenges to international security, including maritime security.”
The bloc sees the Indo-Pacific as offering potential for new trade. The EU listed a commitment to seek free trade deals with Australia, Indonesia and New Zealand. German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas has warned of the EU missing out after the PRC and other Indo-Pacific nations signed what could become the world’s largest free trade agreement starting in 2022.
The EU document also said the bloc wanted to sign an investment treaty with the PRC that both sides agreed in principle in late 2020.
IMAGE CREDIT: PETTY OFFICER 3RD CLASS DAVID ZEIGLER/U.S. NAVY